October 22, 2015
Contact, Jeff Sheldon
Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed
Office: (402) 438-8853
Mobile: (402) 840-7289
Child welfare group releases new report on Normalcy for foster youth
Stakeholders release report in conjunction with interim study on implementing Strengthening Families Act
LINCOLN — Thursday, a group of Nebraska child welfare stakeholders released a new report with recommendations on how to best implement the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (SFA) in Nebraska to improve outcomes for children and youth in the foster care system.
The report, ”Letting Kids Be Kids: Nebraska’s Implementation of the Strengthening Families Act,” which was compiled by the Strengthening Families Act stakeholder group, is a portrait of how the SFA, a federal law passed in 2014, can ensure children and youth in foster care in Nebraska can have the same age- and developmentally-appropriate experiences as other kids that are important for their healthy development – a practice known as “normalcy.”
“Implementing the SFA is foundational to a functional child welfare system,” said Jennifer Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Youth Law Center and a former foster youth. “Like thousands of other youth, the child welfare system had not protected me from all the experiences that could break my spirit and body, but had completely insulated me from just about every experience and relationship that might help me heal, form a new identity and thrive as an adult. It wasn’t until I had left care, and finally had the chances to participate in youth development activities, travel, and work that my world opened up and I learned who I was meant to be.”
“Kids in foster care shouldn’t face bureaucratic barriers to participating in important growing-up experiences, such as having a part-time job, going to prom or obtaining a driver’s license,” said Nebraska Appleseed Child Welfare Director Sarah Helvey. “This report examines how Nebraska can fully implement new federal law to remove these barriers because we know these experiences are essential to the healthy development and well-being of young people.”
The SFA improves flexibility within the child welfare system to allow foster parents to make day-to-day decisions to enable children and youth in their care to participate in extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities. Research in the report explains how ensuring youth in foster care can take part in normal, age-appropriate activities like a sleepover at a friend’s house, summer camp, participating in sports or a class field trip, or having a part-time job contributes to healthy development and reduces the stigma of being singled out for being in foster care.
“It is vitally important to give foster parents the ability and support to make day-to-day decisions with care and concern for each individual child and young person’s needs and preferences in mind, so that they can participate in typical childhood activities,” Sen. Kathy Campbell said.
These recommendations were presented at the interim study hearing for LR 248, sponsored by Sen. Campbell, at the State Capitol on Thursday.
The report’s recommendations include:
- Normalcy and the Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard should be applied to children and youth in all levels of foster care.
- Nebraska statute should state that children in foster care have the right to take part in age- and developmentally-appropriate activities.
- A grievance process should be available for youth who feel they have not been heard or are facing consistent disagreement about normalcy activities.
These recommendations represent the collective feedback of more than 200 youth, parents, foster parents, providers, caseworkers, attorneys, judges, and other advocates through stakeholder meetings, surveys and focus groups.
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